How to Become Agile in Sales

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The sales landscape has shifted. With the advent of social media, buyers are more research-centric than ever before. According to the Marketing Leadership Council, customers today typically first come into contact with sales reps after 60 percent of their B2B purchase decisions have been completed. This indicates that the buyer-seller relationship has not only reversed, but that smart companies will develop plans of action to meet customers where they are—on the Internet and social media sites. In Selling Through Someone Else: How to Use Agile Sales Networks and Partners to Sell More, Robert Wollan, Naveen Jain, and Michael Heald, executives with Accenture Management Consulting, tackle the transformational effect global channel partners, connected customers, and technology have on the sales process. Jain gave Associate Editor Kelly Liyakasa some tips about how organizations can become agile sellers.

CRM: What inspired you to address the changing face of sales models?

Naveen Jain: We found commonalities among the challenges many of our clients across various industries are facing. If you look at communications, high-tech, or industrial goods, many of the companies are selling in a much more complex environment, where they are selling through a much wider network of what we call "selling through someone else." It could be influencers, intermediaries, channel partners, or even customers.

CRM: What did you find is a major hurdle to reaching true agility in the sales organization?

Jain: The challenge we find is that it's not that people don't understand they need to be agile. [Many] are operating in a very siloed environment. You could look at marketing, for instance, and look at people in their channel development organization, and they're all building their own sales sheets. The problem is, none of these talk to each other or connect in an end-to-end framework. Companies [need to say] "Hey, we need to engage, empower, and to close," and think about how these three things tie together. That is the biggest challenge, and companies' [traditional] operating models sometimes get in the way. Their ability to prioritize what really matters from an outcome perspective rather than from an activities perspective stands in the way.<

CRM: What is the embodiment of an "agile seller"?

Jain: The first point is this whole notion of the unleashing of innovation. Historically, clients would say, "Companies with [complex sales models] are different than us. I'm a direct sales model and they sell through independent contractors or they sell through franchises." Learning [how other sales models work] can have a phenomenal effect on how they can create innovation in their own sales models. Number two is this whole notion that it's not about the sales force. It's about selling forces. The whole social adoption trend in selling comes with that side. The third point is...it's about negotiating for profits instead of setting prices. The fourth is around this notion of surgical analytics. Focus on enabling decisions, not analytics. The fifth point is this notion of quality versus quantity. The ability for us to have quality [information and data], which can increase the close rate and decrease costs, is phenomenal. We can leverage predictive analytics to do that. Next is influence versus coverage. It's about the boundary-less, collaborative ecosystem and thinking beyond "I do this and my partners do this."

CRM: How can companies use social media more effectively in their sales efforts?

Jain: Social media is dramatically affecting the source of where leads come from. A person just moved and he posts on Facebook, "Hey, I just moved and I'm looking for insurance." The point I'm making—and this can work in B2B and B2C environments—is how you engage buyers and the kinds of intelligence and leads you can get using social media is amazing.

The kinds of intelligence you can capture not only enrich your leads, but in a very cost-effective way [can also help you] screen them and enhance them so you can focus on the right leads.

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